More Thoughts On Who is a Jew: Wisdom of Kahana

Personally, I am still amazed that this debate is so hotly contested to this day amongst Jews themselves. The enemies of our people certainly seem to know the answer to this question, and have no difficulty in identifying who is a Jew. It is a shame that in our own efforts to define the answer to this same question, we are led down the path that has plagued those that still wish to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The answer actually ranges from none, because no angel would dance on the head of pin, to all of them, because in this infinitely complex universe anything is conceivable on an atomic level, as well as any answer in between. Yet, even though the answer to “Who is a Jew” is technically no different, it remains a hotly debated one, especially among Orthodox Jewish groups, but their agenda is just as much a political one as it is religious based. As per my previous articles on this subject, my answer is more philosophically based than it may be Torah based. When it came to persecution, pogroms, genocide, all one needed was a single drop of Jewish blood in order to suffer right alongside those patrilineal based Jews, matrilineal based Jews, converted Jews, both parent Jews, grandparent based Jews, etc. History certainly seemed to be clear on the definition, but the real issue that I’m concerned with is the one of self-identity. Who do you see yourself as being? After all, you are accountable for your own actions, choosing and selecting your own beliefs and setting your own moral values and standards. If you identify yourself as being Jewish, and by that, I mean a follower of Torah, a believer in the covenant of Sinai, and deny the add-ons, manipulations, and transformations that were subsequently made by both Christianity and Islam, then you are judged by the Almighty as being a Jew. Now, one can argue that there are those born as Jews, that abandoned the Torah, yet by ethnicity are considered and recognized as Jews. The issue of ethnicity, this perpetual citizenship within a clan, definitely clouds the matter, but in my interpretation of the Torah, this is clearly dealt with. In the matter of when is a Jew, not a Jew, it is when he or she abandons the covenant, and God appeared to have no difficulty in punishing, exiling or abandoning the faithless. These ‘aher’ or ‘others’ could only be restored if they proved their faith and observances had also been restored, otherwise, they were cut off from the people. The expression of being ‘cut-off’ definitely suggests to me that one does essentially lose their classification as being a Jew even if born of Jewish parents.

Converts To Judaism

Jewish identity based on conversion rules became an issue as soon as there were different sects of Judaism, each with their own sets of regulations. If we are to examine Rabbinical Judaism, then their laws of conversion are based on their religious texts, including the Talmud, through the Shulkhan Arukh, but the subsequent interpretations held by Orthodox Rabbinical Judaism differ from those of Conservative Judaism. The Orthodox will only recognize those conversions in which a convert accepts and undertakes to observe halakha as interpreted by the teachings of Orthodox Judaism and since Conservatism does not require their converts to make this commitment, they are not accepted by the Orthodoxy and as for those conversions performed by Reformists, they don’t even exist as far as the Orthodoxy are concerned. Conservatism does take a more lenient approach to both Reform and Reconstructionist conversions, and will accept some if they included the mikvah, appearance before a rabbinical court and a symbolic circumcision for those men already circumcised. Yet, in spite of these aforementioned branches, in this modern world, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews probably make up the majority of those adhering to Judaism throughout the world, and definitely in North America. Knowing the rituals and history, practicing the customs, appearing at services, and some individual study with a rabbi appears to be the criteria for this majority, yet the exact definition of how much study, how much knowledge is required, appears to be undefined and highly variable.

And then there is our particular branch, or Karaite Judaism, which does hold different requirements for conversion, and didn’t even accept converts until recently, on 1 August 2007. At that time, at a ceremony in the Karaite community of Northern California synagogue, ten adults and four minors swore fealty to Judaism after completing a year of study. Exactly 15 years after the Karaite Council of Sages reversed its centuries-old ban on accepting converts. Pledging allegiance after a year of study, may not be the answer either because ultimately, the definition is of a more spiritual nature than text-book learning.

This in turn leads to the question, who’s right and who’s wrong. Returning to my original argument of a philosophical nature, did the ceremonies render these converts Jewish? I would say no. Did their year or years of study do so? Again, I would say no. What made them Jewish was their self-awareness, their self-identification. A certificate, a ceremony, these are all external and superficial items, but the real source of Jewishness is what lies within the person. For purposes of belonging to the family, of being considered bound by flesh and blood, then these external symbols of fidelity, religious dedication are taken as proof of commitment but in reality, only Yahweh truly knows what the thoughts and internal feelings and true sentiments of the individual are. Ultimately, it is His recognition, which says, you are a Jew.

Atheist Jews and Jews In Other Faiths

Herein lays the error of our ways. We have placed so much emphasis and effort on defining ‘who is a Jew’ that we have brought about our continual downfall by not dealing with the real issue of ‘who isn’t a Jew’. I always get a laugh from the Jewish press in which they say this star or starlet, this business leader or politician is Jewish or has Jewish origins. Meanwhile the person they have identified has no association whatsoever with their heritage or the Jewish people. Obviously, those celebrities have made every effort to erase that single drop of Jewish blood, so why would we play the game that our enemies have used throughout history? Why should we insist that Judaism is an ethnicity rather than a commitment of faith? Orthodoxy considers any person born of a Jewish mother to be Jewish, even if they convert to another religion. Such a concept is an affront to God. It is a slap in the face of the Almighty. It is the repetitive reason that we have suffered His punishments for 3000 years. The Torquemadas, Stalins and Hitlers, so desperate to erase that single drop of Jewish blood that our Rabbinical Halakhists insisted rendered them Jewish and in turn it fueled their self-hatred to genocidal levels. This insistence by near-sighted Jewish leaders is a statement that the genetic link is more important than the link through the Covenant and that classical error has not only been our downfall in the past but will prove to be our demise in the future. Those that choose to follow another faith, or have no faith at all, are not Jews. They may have Jewish origins, but it does not mean that they share a bond of religious faith with us. Should they decide to return to the faith, then we will warmly welcome them, and their consideration as Jews restored, but this only proves that those not born of Jewish parents, whom willingly adopt Judaism are even more deserving of this recognition than those I loosely label as ‘heretic Jews’, the Meshumadim of our people. Yet, in both scenarios, carrying any baggage from their former practices cannot be tolerated, cannot be permitted, because it is certain sign that their commitment is less than one hundred percent and they are merely a seed of our own destruction.

Shalom Aleichm

Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana

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Comments 5 comments

Kahana profile image

Kahana 2 years ago Author

Shalom Richard, I intentionally included that picture to highlight the major issue of Jews that essentially want to change Judaism. What could be more offensive to Jewish thought which has preserved the Passover Seder ritual for 3000 years to suddenly have a headline that reads "Christ in the Passover"?


Richard 2 years ago

I do not know if it just me on my phone or if everyone is seeing what i am seeing with your article. Right in the middle is an ad from Jews for Jesus. Are they into hijacking blogs now?


Kahana profile image

Kahana 2 years ago Author

Shalom Peeples, I do see your perspective quite clearly. A seed has been planted. What you do with that seed, how you nurture it, care for it, protect it will determine if it becomes a nourishing plant. So as you can appreciate, I am not dismissing the potential to be Jewish, but only encouraging you to make that plant grow and to be truly Jewish, not simply by a biological connection which is tenuous, but by faith, by belief, by affiliation, which is the strength to be truly Jewish. I wish you success on that journey.


peeples profile image

peeples 2 years ago from South Carolina

I consider my self an atheist/agnostic jew. I went into foster care as a child. Lost my faith in a God, but always felt a connection to Judaism. It always has been the religion that makes me think a God is possible. My mother's side was Jewish but we had no religion growing up because my mom was mentally ill and my dad didn't talk about religion. About a year ago when I was informed that her Jewishness made me a Jew I began researching, celebrating some of the holidays, started trying to keep kosher, reading the Torah, and most importantly letting my children read about it. That ray of hope being told I was Jewish by race, may one day lead me out of atheism. So while I get your point overall, I think you are missing that little part that being told you are Jewish may lead into actually committing to being Jewish. I have three children. The simple words "you are Jewish by birth" may lead into 4 new actual Jews.


Richard 2 years ago

I agree that a Jew is one by choice and faith in the God of Israel. Many may be "born" into the family of Judaism, but do they follow Torah. Is not that the crux of the matter? Keeping our Father's commandments , statutes and ordinances.

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